motherhood

[OPINION] The woman who taught me to be a compassionate leader

Christian King Condez
[OPINION] The woman who taught me to be a compassionate leader

Illustration by Janina Malinis

'Compassionate leaders are called on to become flames that kindle other flames, and my mom was the one who sparked that small fire within me'

When I lost my mom in the fight against liver cancer in 2014, I did not know what to do. As a 15-year-old, I was scared. I felt overwhelmed, devastated, and defeated. 

She wasn’t only a mother to me — she was my shield whenever other kids bullied me because of how feminine I was; she was my ball of sunshine when I felt alone and in the dark because I didn’t have many friends; and she was my home, where I could run to whenever I was out of place and felt that I did not belong. 

She was everything to me, and her love taught me how to be a compassionate leader.

As an LGBTQ+ teen growing up, leadership did not come naturally to me. All I knew was that leaders were these strong, courageous, and outspoken extroverts at school and that leadership meant commanding teams to do tasks. 

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Leadership was a vague concept then, and it did not interest me. Instead, I focused on my STEM classes and research competitions, always taking to heart my mom’s advice: “Be kind to others, be your most authentic self, and be empathetic towards people different from you.” 

But when the time of her passing came, I knew I had to cherish these words and carry her values through my own life’s work.

Instead of having an 8 am to 5 pm schedule every day, going to school and returning home, I took on English club activities. I wrote articles, I did speeches, and I tried to gain friends in the process, making myself comfortable in the company of others — all of which were new to me. 

And when it got to the point that a leadership opportunity came, I knew I had to step up. I was nervous – my palms were sweaty, and I was shaking. I did not know if I could muster up the little bit of courage that I had.

But I was able to. I was able to speak up and let others know what I wanted.

Everyone was silent after my speech, surprised. Meek and soft-spoken Christian wanted to run as a grade level representative. But instead of being bullied, laughed at, or made to feel out of place, everyone cheered.

I was also surprised. For the first time in my life, I felt supported, with everyone encouraging me to pursue this new chapter. Slowly but surely, I opened my heart to others, and I progressed: I got elected to higher positions, I gained new friends, and I found love.

Eventually, I became the president of our school’s student government.

Based on my experiences, leadership may mean leading effective teams towards heights of productivity, but it may also mean so much more. Leadership is compassion — it is practicing kindness to others, being your most authentic self, and being empathetic towards people of different backgrounds. 

Leadership is understanding and being a person for others, working with everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, and striving for everyone’s personal growth. By setting and demonstrating these values among ourselves, we influence others to do the same. It was the same way my mom taught me compassion.

While society looks up to those with Type A personalities, I find strength in humility and admitting that I am not the best nor the brightest. To me, compassionate leadership is what we need more, given all the chaos and strife in the world.

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As the Jesuits would often say, leadership can be found in cura personalis, or the call for everyone to love ourselves and others — care for the entire person.

St. Ignatius of Loyola would often end his letters to the Society of Jesus with “Ite, inflammate omnia” or “Go forth and set the world on fire.” Similar to this, compassionate leaders are called on to become flames that kindle other flames, and my mom was the one who sparked that small fire within me.

With the zeal that compassionate leaders have, they set afire other young leaders to become a force of good in society, overall contributing to something greater than themselves.

Like the burning sun, compassionate leaders are symbols of energy, enthusiasm, and hope for the future. They are beings of light that we can look forward to in times of uncertainty. Compassionate leaders exhibit a burning vitality, yet they also project a gentle warmth — an acceptance of the new and of the familiar.

Their flame provides radiance to everyone, both the represented and underrepresented, being real and sincere in their brilliance, and possessing courage, competence, and strength in their day to day. In their own lives, compassionate leaders lead by example and are often the crimson blazes we need in society and the world. 

When I lost my mom to cancer several years ago, I did not know what to do. I was scared and overwhelmed. I had lost my shield, my ball of sunshine, and my home, but she left me with the greatest gifts I could ever have asked for: kindness, authenticity, and empathy. She was everything to me, and her love taught me how to be a compassionate leader. – Rappler.com

Christian King Condez is an undergraduate student from the Ateneo de Manila University, currently taking up his bachelor’s degree in Biology. He is a student leader and one of the directors of the Council of Organizations of the Ateneo-Manila’s (COA-M) Committee on Organizational Strategies for Mental Health (COSMH).